21 Rabbis Take a Stand on Alberto Gonzales Nomination

EDITOR'S NOTE: Eight rabbis (brought together by the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center) met with Senator Arlen Specter on Monday, December 27, bearing the following letter signed by 21 rabbis from the Philadelphia area. The letter is published here with permission.

December 26, 2004
To: Hon. Arlen Specter, United States Senate
From: 21 Concerned Philadelphia Rabbis

Dear Senator Specter,

In the rabbis' view, Mr. Gonzales' advice that the President was legally authorized under the US Constitution to circumvent the Geneva Conventions casts great doubt on his worthiness to become Attorney General.

Some of us are meeting with you to discuss two important questions; the rest, who could not arrange to do so at this time, thank you as well for your time and attention. We also join in blessing you with refuah shleymah, the fullest of healing.

We come to discuss:

We are deeply concerned that Mr. Gonzales as White House counsel advised the President that the President was authorized under the Constitution to annul the Geneva Conventions and to authorize the use of torture by United States forces and agents in the process of interrogating prisoners.

That memo was not merely theoretical: It had a major effect on the chain of command and the behavior of American forces and agents in Guantanamo and at Abu Ghraib, and at other prisons in various places where the United States has either itself used methods named as torture by the Geneva Conventions or has "rendered" its prisoners to foreign governments known to use extremely brutal methods of torture.

In our view, Mr. Gonzales' advice that the President was legally entitled to authorize such behavior casts great doubt on his worthiness to become Attorney General.

We believe that the only way for him to assuage that doubt is for him to unequivocally affirm before the Judiciary Committee that:

We take this position not only out of love for the Constitution and laws of the United States, not only out of deep concern for the safety of American soldiers and civilians who may well be endangered if the protections of the Geneva Conventions are denigrated and diminished by the United States, but out of moral and ethical values deeply affirmed by Torah and by the religious traditions of many communities and peoples.

"We take this position not only out of love for the Constitution and laws of the United States....out of moral and ethical values deeply affirmed by Torah and by the religious traditions of many communities and peoples."

From the standpoint of Torah, all human beings are created in the Image of God.

Torture shatters and defiles that Image. In every shriek of those in unbearable pain, in every crazed nightmare of those who are denied sleep for days and weeks at a time, in every muffled moan of those plunged under water for minutes at a time, trying not to breathe lest they drown, God is broken. God is defiled.

And the very Geneva Conventions that Mr. Gonzales said were obsolete were adopted by the nations of the world very shortly after, and because of, World War II. They are one of the most sacred legacies of the dead of the Nazi Holocaust, bequeathed from their suffering to the human race as a whole.

We know that some have argued that the President is entitled to have almost anyone he wishes in his Cabinet. But the power to reject such appointments was placed by the Constitution in the hands of the Senate precisely to check and balance the likelihood that Presidents might appoint officials who might then assist the President to puff up his power beyond Constitutional limits, and to break the law.

Our Founders knew perfectly well of British kings who had used torture or otherwise broken the bounds of legitimate law. They intended to make that impossible in our republic.

We urge you therefore to use wisely the authority that the Founders so wisely put in your hands.

If Mr. Gonzales fails or refuses to make these commitments that we have outlined, we urge you to vote against confirming his nomination and against sending it to the floor, and we urge you to use the full power of Senators to oppose his confirmation.

We believe you share our deep concern for moral values and for those aspects of our tradition that are universally relevant. And we believe that you stand also for an overarching vision of the Constitution; that you will not be, in the words of one writer, "victimized by the age in which [you] live." So we will look forward to your decision on this question.

With the blessings of shalom,

Rabbi Avruhm Addison*, immediate past president, VAAD Philadelphia Board of Rabbis
Rabbi Rebecca Alpert*, Temple University
Rabbi Phyllis Berman, Riverside Language Program
Rabbi Andrew Busch, Beth David Reform Congregation
Rabbi Henry Cohen*, Beth David Reform Congregation

Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell*, director, Pennsylvania region, Union for Reform Judaism
Rabbi Dayle Friedman
Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer*, immediate past president, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Rabbi Julie Greenberg, Congregation Leyv Ha'Ir / Heart of the City
Rabbi Linda Holtzman, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbi Myriam Klotz
Rabbi Yael Levy*, Mishkan Shalom
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, The Shefa Fund
Rabbi Marc J. Margolius, Jewish Community Centers
Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael
Rabbi Margot Stein
Rabbi Jeffrey Sultar, Mishkan Shalom
Rabbi David Teutsch*, past president, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbi Arthur Waskow*, The Shalom Center
Rabbi Avi Winokur, Society Hill Synagogue
Rabbi Shawn Zevit, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

Two other rabbis who hoped to meet with Sen. Specter, and had expressed general agreement with the views in this letter, were in Israel: Rabbi Leonard Gordon, Germantown Jewish Centre; and Rabbi David Straus, Main Line Reform Temple.

The institutions noted above with rabbis' names are for identification only. Asterisks denote those rabbis who met with Senator Specter.

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This story was published on December 29, 2004.